Review: Ducktales Remastered (*****)

Ducktales-Remastered-Logo

About the fifth time through the Mount Vesuvius level of Ducktales Remastered, I literally flipped my lid. After making the same mistake with the pogo jump for what felt like the millionth time, I had lost every life except my last one, to which I clung desperately. Carefully making my way through the level on the brink of disaster (for I knew both a boss and a timed chase sequence would follow), I found myself in the exact same place yet again: falling platforms and ghosts galore. Time the run wrong and the ghost will remain in front of your preventing a jump onto a chain rope and causing instant death, Lo and behold, I made the same mistake yet again.

My ventures into the mountain proved fruitless yet again! Seriously, the first time out seemed so easy, and I nearly completed the game if not for a stupid slip of the controls in grabbing onto the chain. The PS3 controller in my hands started giving my left thumb a distinct red color from the amount of stressed placed on it. Yet, after all these attempts, I just couldn’t do it. Frustration, futility, and that feeling that, yes, I need to play the level FROM THE START YET AGAIN bubbled within me. So what else to do? Slam the control on the ground as hard as I possibly could.

Ducktales Remastered falls into that vein of the NES platformer. Not quite as difficult as an arcade game, and certainly not as easy as any modern game, its aesthetics and its mechanics sit in a comfortable juxtaposition. On the one hand, Duckberg and the tales of anthropomorphic ducks (and various other strange creatures) never looked so brilliant. Disney Interactive, fittingly, lent official Disney animators to the rebirth of this Capcom project, and the added cutscenes and authentic voices (Alan Young returns as Scrooge at 93 – that’s dedication!) lend an air of lighthearted fun and adventure. Well, unless you see Carl Barks’ famous family of ducks as a metaphor for white imperialism and evil capitalism, in which case you should go find a fire and die in it.

Capcom, lacking the actual development teams to make Ducktales yet again (as the lack of a new Mega Man game surely reveals), outsourced the project to WayForward, who seemingly became the go-to “retro game with modern sheen” outfit of the day. First recognized for the little-recognized Game Boy Color platformer Shantae (which, I’m sure, nobody ever even remember), WayForward somehow stumbled into licensed game after licensed game, imbuing them with enough quality to stand on their own, if not to surpass classic platformers and beat’em ups. Let’s say Double Dragon Neon looks awesome, but doesn’t quite capture the same feel.

However, for this outing WayForward plays it straight; it’s not as if Capcom originally developed a bad game here. Most people know the NES Ducktales for the Moon theme, beaten into the heads of children everywhere circa 1989 and recently revived into the chiptune scene. Still, I find the game notable for its one defining feature: the pogo. Scrooge jumps around, and he smacks objects with his cane like a baseball bat, but the cane pogo defines Ducktales. While jumping, hold down and the attack button to begin the pogo. Scrooge will merrily bounce as long as you hold the attack button; WayForward added an “easy” pogo which merely requires holding down attack during jumps (but this isn’t available in Extreme mode).

While this may seem unremarkable, the level design revolves around myriad uses of the pogo, from small spaces to giant chasms where bouncing along enemy heads remains the only option for success. Sometimes, you’ll need to control the height and depth of a pogo jump, and this is where the Hard Pogo comes into play. Releasing the button in an upward descent will slow Scrooge’s momentum going upward, but you can immediately resume pogoing in air with the same button press. Thus, low altitude pogo jumps. Let me tell you, the game MORE than requires this during certain segments, especially to make it past enemies unscathed in treacherous environments. Still, the nuances of the pogo reveal themselves over time. More importantly, the pogo never gets old, and still retains that stupid, yet satisfying, sound effect from the original.

Most people always felt that the pogo sometimes works, and sometimes does not – I believe this comes from Scrooge’s ability to duck. Sometimes, it recognizes that you landed rather than pogo jumped, leading to sometimes unavoidable damage when you land in a spot between two heights/depths. You can solve this problem by simply holding the button and jumping with safety – there’s rarely a moment in the game that forces a mentality of speed, and even those moments present no direct danger to failing at pogo. In other words, this “bug” alone doesn’t kill the game at all.

The level designed isn’t totally unchanged from the original, though, hence the title. Fitting more in line with the cartoons and comic, Scrooge now collects various objects or completes objectives in order to progress. The design remains open-ended as in the original, but now provides a little more guidance. You cannot simply go to the boss room anymore, and that seems strange to anyone playing the original. Still, the cutscenes remain entertaining and endearing, specifically in choosing to play it straight rather than give “in-jokes” to the intended audience of 25+ aged people playing this for nostalgia. It does become tiresome, though, when you die repeatedly and must pause to skip cutscenes you may see five to ten times.

As well, modern concessions exist on lower difficulties in the form of life total increases. Given the original game’s “no continue” policy, this seems an acceptable loss for accessibility. Furthermore, it’s still a kids cartoon and a kids games – it just happens to hate the kids who play it. Heck, if you want the original, go play the higher difficulties. Almost every end boss appears a means to compensate for the additional life totals, with completely new patterns and a wide variety of attacks to throw at you. Honestly, the boss difficulty surprised me, but each does come down to a set of memorization and quick reflexes – just as I like it.

What doesn’t awaken the fan in me comes down to subtle problems. The increased animations, while wonderful, sometimes clash with the backgrounds. While beautiful at times, they turn certain jumps into problematic trial and error. Get too close to the edge of a platform bordering spikes and/or enemies and you may get hit anyway, even though you didn’t move! Frankly, I think it comes from grafting new animation to an old grid, as I never remember encountering this in the original. It’s a small price to pay, and caution will avoid it entirely (as this game affords in spade). Speed won’t win the day, anyway, as Ducktales requires measured precision.

That, in effect, makes Ducktales Remastered a great, yet different, re-working of the original game. The multiple difficulties add enough difference and nuance to make replays a worthy venture, and the inherent skill-based physics of pogo mean that the central mechanic, much like the physics of Super Mario Bros.’ running and jumping, reveals additional uses as you play more and more. That’s the definition of a great game, and while I hesitate to give it five star, I’m trying to think of a reason NOT to recommend it, honestly. All these tiny flaws come from far-too-much experience on my part, and I doubt many people would even notice them. Rather, they would enjoy the Ducktales theme, or the excellent musical track in the vein of classic Capcom tunes, or the inherent fun of the whole experience.

Truly, I know this a little too well. After my aforementioned rage throw (caused by a level new to this remake, actually – guess that tells you the quality of design), I knew how stupid it was to get mad at it. I could chip away and persevere, and start actively analyzing my mistakes as I played. Getting angry certainly wasn’t going to help. So I persevered; I continued to play the game and chip away until I performed a nearly perfect run of the entire level (stupid boss hit me when I made a slight error, but nothing too large). Man, was that satisfying. Waves of satisfaction rushed over my body as my heart rate, quickened from the intensity of the last sequence, subsided. I had beaten it. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:

 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

As it is part of the Christian life to set ourselves a higher standard of holiness, so we must improve our skills in every facet. The game disciplined me into a sort of zen state that, really, every great video game strives to do, and not many can ever reach. Capcom’s twenty four year old design, with a few tweaks, stands up to the test of time. Don’t listen to those reviewers hailing the “classic” and lambasting the remake; they’ve more than likely played neither.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.